3 reasons social media matters more than you think

By | August 28th, 2013


It’s true, social media fatigue is starting to set in across the Internet.

Consumers say they’re tired of receiving useless information through the latest and greatest social network and wary of giving up their personal data. A recent Pew survey, for example, says as much as 38 percent of Facebook users plan to use the service less this year.

But here’s one good reason you shouldn’t delete your Facebook or Twitter account yet: Companies are paying close attention to what you say.

Closer than you can imagine.

The details came to light in a wire service report about Nestle’s “Digital Acceleration Team,” a command center that monitors the corporation’s online reputation.

Customers were surprised to hear Nestle wasn’t alone. Other large corporations, including PepsiCo, Danone and Unilever, reportedly also engage in this online reputation management.

To their credit, companies also want to use social media to help you. I recently heard from a major bank, which is building an army of “live” customer service representatives. Social servicing, as the bank calls it, has several notable benefits, both for consumers and companies. According to the company’s own research, 9 out of 10 times it’s faster than a phone call in resolving an issue, and allows companies to proactively reach their customers and engage the public in a positive way. To date, it has reached 16 million households via social media.

The inescapable conclusion: Social media matters more than you think. Maybe even more than you want. Here’s why:

Your social voice is loud. Like it or not, companies are paying closer attention to what you tweet than what you say by phone. And with good reason. A single digital utterance can go viral in a few minutes, causing irreparable harm to a company. Until corporations figure out a way to neutralize your electronic speech (and believe me, they’re trying), they’ll probably always give your social media opinions more weight than anything you could write in an email or say in a phone call.

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For companies, it’s a more efficient way to communicate. Whether it’s focused on managing a company’s reputation or on managing customer-service expectations, social media allows fewer staff to do more. Many responses can be pre-scripted. Some comebacks can be completely automated. Certainly, tracking customer queries is easier through social media, which leaves a digital “trail.” It’s easy to see why companies would embrace social media in a big way and why, maybe, you should, too.

The mystery of the unknown. Social media, and whatever comes next, is a constantly changing medium. No one knows what it will bring, or how it could further empower customers. That unnerves companies. They’re looking for a sure thing, like email or paper letters. They miss the old days, when a select few controlled access to media. So when they look at social media, they’re confused and worried about the future. Even if they manage to figure out a way to bury your social media critiques of their customer service practices, there’s probably an awareness that they won’t always be able to do so. Such is the nature of social media and communication in the 21st century.

I admit, seeing some of these large companies building a massive presence online is enough to make you walk away in despair. After all, if they’re trying to control the social space in this way, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all “managed” — which is corporate-speak for having our consumer voices squelched.

But I see it differently. I think customers have never had a bigger megaphone and that companies are rushing to meet us online not just because they want to control what’s being said about them, but also because they actually care about helping their consumers. The unpredictability of the medium will keep the balance of power shifted to us for a long time to come.

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See you online.

Does social media improve your chances of getting good customer service?

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  • Treena Metallic

    Every issue I’ve addressed (e.g. complained about) via twitter resulted in (almost) immediate resolution – from banking to cell phones to a hotel reservation…love it!

  • Chris Johnson

    I have no vote on this because this is boring to me. Come on Chris, I want to hear more stories about peoples’ travel plans gone awry! They seem to be lacking these days.

  • omgstfualready

    Agreed. The ‘about’ section needs to be updated:
    Elliott is a site that advocates for you.

    Founded in 1997 by consumer advocate and journalist Christopher Elliott, its goal is to empower consumers to solve their service problems and to help those who can’t.

    If you’re having trouble with a business — any business — and you’ve reached a dead end, we’ll try to help. Send us an email and we’ll investigate. Please read our frequently asked questions before getting in touch.

  • So sorry to bore you. Every Wednesday I republish my Mint.com column here. That’s what you’re reading now. I have another non-travel case that gets solved every Thursday and then a Travel Troubleshooter on Friday. I expanded beyond travel cases in 2011, when my first book “Scammed” came out. Thanks for participating in the discussion.

  • JenniferFinger

    To be honest, I find business use of social media to be rather off-putting. I use it for personal reasons-to stay in contact with friends and loved ones, and I’d rather not have my information used for target marketing or be bombarded with ads.

    That said, I can understand why businesses rush to embrace social media as another still relatively unknown channel for communicating with actual and potential customers. But sometimes I wish they’d stop assuming every new aspect of technology is one they have to exploit for profits and just leave well enough alone.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    I find it quite exciting to think that the consumers’ voice is heard by companies. Imagine if top management made decisions and implemented policies based on what CUSTOMERS want and need? Personally, I can’t wait for the day that the much-too-warm duvets disappear from hotel beds so I don’t have to spend 15 minutes arguing with the bedding as I try to create something that I could sleep in. I may even learn how to tweet one of these days.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    YAHBUT we love the travel stories best! They always make me feel grateful for not (yet) experiencing some of the horrors that people write in about. And they are terrifically educational.

  • DavidYoung2

    You are 100% on target. We had a $3,000 Sony Bravia XBR TV that went fritzy after just over two years and were met with the silent treatment from Sony. Sorry, warranty is gone. Took it up with on Facebook and BOOM, a ‘Sony Cares’ representative made a reasonable offer for replacement in less than one day.

  • Alan Gore

    The social media market is rather fragmented these days, with so many different services competing for our attention. There has to be a shakeout and consolidation as people come to conclusions about what works best. But even in its present state, it’s a place where consumers can be heard when companies pretend not to listen.

  • omgstfualready

    Agreed, I learn a lot here. I travel often but there are always opportunities to learn! I don’t enjoy the misery of others, I enjoy knowing that many others may not experience the same fate.

  • jennj99738

    This. I had an issue with Virgin America where my flight was cancelled during a major east coast storm. The phone lines were jammed with people trying to get refunds. My hold time was estimated at hours. I submitted one tweet and within a half hour, I had my refund. That’s great customer service.

  • omgstfualready

    True, to a point. Consumers aren’t always aware of what we want and need. I, and many of my peers, scoffed at the iPad (though few of us admit it) apparently there was a heckuva want (debate on the need) that the average person knew existed.
    However the idea at Hilton came about to have the same alarm clock at every hotel deserves some type of special award.

  • naoma

    I have no desire to be on Facebook and never will.

  • bodega3

    As much as I would like to not have to deal with the media world at all, I have found it to work for me in getting a local business to contact me when all else failed. I posted a negative comment on their FB page and by the next day they called me.

  • emanon256

    I had an issue with ComCast where I spent over 5 hours on hold over the course of several days and every agent I got was simply not knowledgeable to help, or would tell me to try the on-line chat and the on-line chat would tell me to call. I wrote on their Facebook page, and got a message with a special e-mail address. I wrote in, and a real live person contacted me and solved my problem right away.

  • emanon256

    Unfortunately, its these businesses that are paying for the social media so that we can use it for free.

  • SoBeSparky

    I found this column to be very interesting, and the comments even more so as faithful readers verify firsthand the basic premise of his blog today. I have had major issues with a nation-wide bank in the past several years, and will be posting my experiences on facebook in a matter of days (after my lending relationship with this bank ends this Friday).

    Case in point, in trying to get a simple piece of paper from the bank, and failing on four attempts, I am still put through a script which was explained as “tailoring our services for you.” In fact, this was a thinly veiled marketing spiel, having no benefit to me and lots of upside to the bank. I was given this lecture twice and answered the questions. The third time, I told the “phone banker” that I was not going to answer any personal questions. “It is my legal right to get this document without having to answer the questions in your script,” I said. Of course, I learned more about these “personal banker” scripts just a few days ago here from Christopher.

    Bravo for useful information!

  • SallyLu

    For many people, there is no real need to be on Facebook or any social media, but many others, such as myself, find it it enhances our lives. I have a huge family, spread all across the country. I would never be able to keep up on what they are doing regularly, and would probably loose touch with half of them. With FB, I see what is going on in their lives, pictures of their kids, vacations, and just every day stuff. I’ve reestablished contact with friends that I lost touch with over the years. Some people might not be interested in this sort of interaction, but I love it. I really do want to know what is going on in their lives. My friend, after getting laid off and having a hard time finding a job the traditional way, put the word out on FB that she was looking and found a job within weeks. I’ve advised people to take their greivences to a company’s FB page when they got poor results after calling. Yes, it does have its’s down side. You have to be careful and protective of your personal information. You are subjected to targeted marketing. But for me, it is worth it

  • stephen_nyc

    If you don’t want to trouble Chris with non-airline problems, take a look at consumerist.com. They have email contact info for lots of companies and they can help with the EECB (executive email carpet bomb). That way you can contact the big shots at the companies who can hopefully help you. Yes, up until sometime last year, you could write comments, but as of now their comment function is gone due to the hosting site getting compromised. But they have good stories and you can also learn about things too.

  • Bill___A

    Some companies are very good at ignoring people even online. Witness the “Marriott Insiders” thread about the hookup between UAL and Marriott. It is widely felt that the Marriott customers got the short end of the stick. People pointing this out have been pretty much ignored.

    However, Twitter has had mixed results, usually positive..

  • Travelnut

    Wow, y’all have a lot better luck than I. I’ve never had a company acknowledge a concern I posted on FB. I strongly suspect many companies delete all their negative posts. Companies I got no help from on FB include thirty-one (they make personalized totes and such), Half-Price Books, and the travel agency from hell that is a whole ‘nother subject. Chris, maybe a good topic would be how to effectively use social media, and how to influence something to go viral.

    OTOH, my employer (an insurance company) is very serious about FB posts and managing their online reputation.

  • Miami510

    Part of life is learning from your experiences… or even better: learning from the experiences of others. This might be called accumulative street smarts. Personally I`ve learned a lot from this Website. Thank you Christoper.

  • JenniferFinger

    Sorry, but no. I pay a commercial enterprise for my Internet connection. I do not pay for any commercial enterprise to advertise their businesses on social media.

  • emanon256

    Sorry I don’t follow what you just said.

    Currently, social media is 100% free to us as users, and its the advertisers that are paying the social media services to operate. If we had to pay to use social media, then it would be different.

  • Steve

    SiriusXM and Safelite glass have both been all over incidents that I posted on their Facebook pages. The trick is not to just say “your company sucks” like many people do, rather, put document the issue as it happened in chronological order and only put down the facts. In one instance Safelite dropped my deductible because their technician was more than three hours late for an appointment and had not called me and SiriusXM agreed to let me out of my contract when I was essentially called a liar by one of their CSR’s when I told her, truthfully, that I did not have two receivers even though I was being billed at that rate.

  • JenniferFinger

    What I just said was, I pay for an Internet connection that includes access to the web. Anyone can put a website on the web and run it. Nobody needs to advertise to do it-not even Facebook. It does this because it wants to run itself as a business. But it didn’t start out that way-it was a strictly social network. If it didn’t advertise, it would probably go back to being a strictly social network, and the vast majority of its users would probably appreciate it. I see articles every day on how businesses should leverage social media for profit-I wish they would leave it alone and let the world have at least one channel of communication that is not about their bottom lines.

    I don’t believe that any social media site HAS to advertise in order to be free for the rest of us. Maybe the Internet providers whom we already pay for service do, but social media networks are not Internet providers.

    I believe we have now exhausted the possibilities of this subject.

  • Kathryn Carver Binau

    I think that social media has forced companies to pay attention to what is being said but Bloomin Brands has to be the most silent company I have come across in quite some time. Having written personal letters and posted numerous comments about their inability to work with food allergies, I am shocked that I have heard nothing. Needless to say, I will not ever dine at one of their establishments again but I intend to post on every food allergy outlet that everyone with a food allergy should avoid their locations.

  • bodega3

    I wanted to add another post to say that Face Book just worked for me a few minutes ago with an overseas airline that I was having an issue with their website on obtaining boarding passes. In just a few minutes after posting my problem, they asked me to PM them, then they emailed me (the booking was made online, so they had my email) my boarding passes. There was some glitch, so I couldn’t even contact them through their website when the boarding pass issuance didn’t work after two days of trying. Thumbs up for social media as being another way to reach businesses!

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